Collin Howell: Water Harvest

The Image

Collin Howell

Mid-Coast Maine, USA

Time / Date:
January-March, 2012

The Technical

Camera Body: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8, Canon 35mm f/1.4, Canon 24-105mm f/4

Camera Settings:

Shutter Speed: various
Aperture: various
ISO: various
Focal Length: various

The Story


It wasn’t until 2011 that I started to pursue photography professionally. I had been teaching English as a Second Language in Boston and, out of a growing interest in photography, decided to enroll in the summer photography program at Maine Media Workshops. In August I made the decision to stay for the year long Professional Certificate Program.

It was for my winter project at Maine Media, that this story came about. The stories I am most interested in are of people’s lives and how they intersect with nature and culture. Maine is a place where many people depend on land and sea for their livelihoods. Without farming and fishing, communities would cease to exist. This can be a harsh reality in the face of growing economic challenges, changing weather patterns, and freezing winters. I wanted not only to highlight the men and women who work through the harsh winter conditions in Maine, but experience for myself what this might be like. For my winter project, I decided to get out on the water with the mussel and oyster harvesters of Maine. These men and women work consistently through the winter, shipping their harvest to stores and restaurants across the country. I was also interested in how mussel and oyster harvesting is more similar in many ways to farming than fishing.

I began researching harvesters who used sustainable practices to either wild harvest mussels, or farm their mussel and oysters in the water. I picked up the phone and before long, had plans to join two small family-owned oyster companies, a mussel farm, and a man who had a business harvesting mussels in the wild. For the next couple of months, I joined them whenever time and conditions would allow.

My approach as a photographer is to listen and learn about my subjects’ lives, to be a part of their experience, and to become an invisible observer with my camera. My goal is to honor their stories through my images.

The Scene: 

The winter of 2012 was an especially harsh one in Maine. My first day out was with Jesse Leach, owner of the Bagaduce Oyster Company. I met him on the frozen Bagaduce River in wind chills of around -12. While his crew member was busy breaking through the ice in his dinghy, Jesse and I walked through a wooded area where it would be easier to get on the boat. After slamming down on the ice, camera in hand, I got in the little boat and we worked our way to the oysters.

My first experience with mussel harvesting was no easier: five hours in below freezing conditions, no bathroom, mud flying. I attempted to stay focused despite frozen fingers and feet. I soon learned the brilliance of hand and foot warmers.


My practice is to travel as light as possible. I feel encumbered by too much gear. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark ii. I tend to primarily shoot with my 35mm f/1.4 and 24-105mm f/4. I also have a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8. I do believe it is important to have a camera and lenses that allow you to capture the scene and express your vision in the best possible way. The most important thing is not your gear, but your vision.

Making the Shot:

I am drawn to images that have an emotional quality that is conveyed through beautiful light and gesture. I aspire to capture those fleeting moments when the light is beautiful, the gesture is expressive, and the movement and spatial layering of the scene come together to create depth and complexity.

I like to be close to my subjects and in the midst of the action. I love it when I feel like I’ve become an invisible part of the scene and I’m in the zone, trying to capture that perfect shot.

Editing & Processing:

I use Adobe Lightroom and like to keep my editing and processing simple. In the editing process, I look for images that I connect to on an emotional level, that invite the viewer into the experience, and help to tell the story. I begin by doing an initial pass through my photos, flagging the ones I want to go back to. My initial edit is pretty large. I find it helpful to step away for a bit, and then go back to that large edit to start narrowing it down. Tightly editing is one of the most important and difficult aspects of photography for me. Once I have my final edit, I will always optimize the pictures with clarity and sharpening.

Looking Back:

I love capturing gesture and action in my images, but am also attracted by the quiet moments that are reflective of a person and a scene. I chose images for this story that I believe best express the experience of the harvest and capture the character of the people.


Be prepared to invest time to build a relationship with your subject. Intimacy and trust are important aspects to in depth visual storytelling. Push yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Find something that interests you and dive in. The more invested and interested you are in your subject, the more magical the results.


I’m inspired by the beauty of nature, by different cultures, and by my belief that everyday people have interesting lives and stories. My favorite thing about photography is how it introduces you to people and experiences you may not otherwise have. I feel honored to be entrusted to tell these stories. I strive to use my photography to raise awareness and establish connections.



About the Photographer

Collin Howell is a documentary photographer whose work explores the connection between humans and nature. Through her images, she seeks to tell stories that compel and inspire.

Collin’s clients include Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Outdoor Foundation, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, and Student Conservation Association.

In 2013, Collin earned a Professional Certificate in Photography from Maine Media College in Rockport, Maine. She was awarded the Maine Media Scholarship while attending. Since graduating from Maine Media College, Collin has worked as an assistant at Seedlight Pictures and a teaching assistant at Maine Media Workshops.

Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Collin currently lives in Boston, and is available for assignment anywhere in the world.

Instagram: @collinlouhowell

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Comments (1)

  1. Bea Reyelts

    So so proud of your hard work, determination, and having the pleasure and honor of teaching such a beautiful girl both inside and out.